Saturday, April 30, 2016

Getting a New Gig

Don't expect a tip....

"New rules for a new economy" by Curt Woodward and Katie Johnston Globe Staff  April 23, 2016

Score one for the “gig economy” — a slice of the working world where young companies offering products and services through mobile apps rely on independent contractors long on flexibility and short on benefits.

A pair of federal lawsuits, brought by a Boston labor lawyer on behalf of drivers in California and Massachusetts, sought to force Uber Technologies Inc. to classify the drivers as employees, an enormously expensive change that would have threatened the ride-hailing company’s business model and sent ripples through the start up world, but the legal challenge fell short.

The Uber cases had been closely watched for their potential to rein in the use of contractors by on-demand companies, a trend that some business thinkers predict will replace 9-to-5 employment for many workers. But because the cases were settled, rather than decided by a judge or jury, it’s not clear whether all companies will plow forward along with Uber.

Some venture capitalists have pulled back from the on-demand sector, spooked by the potential for huge legal bills. At least one well-funded startup, cleaning service provider Homejoy Inc., said it shut down partly because of lawsuits over its labor practices. Other startups have bucked the Uber trend, deciding to make their workers official employees.

For Uber, a company with a private market value of $62 billion in December, the $100-million settlment was seen as a relatively small price to pay to avoid the costs of health care, payroll taxes, and other expenses that come with full-fledged employees....

That's why there is Obummercare.


RelatedUber drivers say $84m settlement is too timid

The deal failed to extract any meaningful concessions and drivers are likely to receive only a few hundred dollars.

Ride-hailing firms react to driver demands

Lyft Inc. has agreed to pay $12.25 million and change how it treats its California drivers.

Uber drivers protest NYC price cuts

Also see:

"Uber is making waves, and the taxi industry is taking on water. As lawmakers on Beacon Hill continue to debate whether ride hailing companies should be held to similar regulatory standards as their old-school, medallion-holding competitors, a record number of Lyft, Fasten, and Uber drivers are working the Boston streets, poised to respond within moments to a user’s digital request for transport. So how can a taxi compete? Two companies that together supply all the credit card processing systems in Boston cabs, Creative Mobile Technologies and VeriFone Taxi Systems, over the next few weeks will both be rolling out their own Uber-esque apps in the Boston marketplace in an effort to modernize how riders order up, and pay for, a taxi cab."

Scrap taxi medallions

You can always find a new gig


Now what car to drive:

"General Motors invests $500m in Lyft, forms partnership" by Mike Isaac New York Times  January 04, 2016

NEW YORK — The founders of Lyft, the ride-hailing service, have long imagined that the future of transportation would involve fewer cars on the road. Now General Motors is helping the start-up reach that goal.

On Monday. Lyft announced that GM has invested $500 million in the company, or half of its latest $1 billion venture financing round. The funding, which recently closed, values Lyft, which is based in San Francisco, at about $4.5 billion.

GM’s support includes more than financial backing. As part of its investment in Lyft, the automaker will work on developing a so-called autonomous on-demand network of self-driving cars, an area of research to which companies like Google, the carmaker Tesla, and Uber, another ride-hailing service, have all devoted enormous resources in recent years.

GM will also work with Lyft to set up a series of short-term car rental hubs across the United States, places where people who do not own cars can pick up a vehicle and drive for Lyft to earn money. Daniel Ammann, president of GM, will join Lyft’s board of directors.

“We strongly believe that autonomous vehicle go-to-market strategy is through a network, not through individual car ownership,” John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, said in an interview.

GM’s investment is a vote of confidence in Lyft, which faces a competitive ride-hailing field. Founded in 2012, Lyft helped promote the so-called ride-sharing craze, positioning itself as a superior alternative to owning a car or using public transportation. Lyft users can summon a private or shared car with a few taps of an app.

But Uber, Lyft’s largest and most formidable rival, has raised more than $10 billion to date, and it is valued at $62.5 billion, roughly 14 times Lyft’s new valuation. Uber operates in hundreds of cities in 68 countries. The company also operates its own research center for self-driving cars in Pittsburgh and is steadily recruiting engineering talent from Carnegie Mellon University as well as from competitors like Google, whose efforts in autonomous vehicle research have been well publicized.

Lyft and GM did not give a timeline for when they expect their autonomous vehicle network to become publicly available.

A mix of existing investors, including the Asian e-commerce giants Rakuten and Alibaba, also contributed to the most recent financing round, as did the Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi Kuaidi.

Lyft has been working to catch up to Uber. The company recently teamed up with ride-hailing competitors in Asia like Didi Kuaidi, Ola, and GrabTaxi to expand. It has also struck deals with major brands like Starbucks and pop stars like Justin Bieber to broaden its reach.

The alliance with GM is surprising because automakers could consider ride-hailing companies like Lyft as long-term threats to auto sales. In an interview, Ammann said that GM wanted to be part of the changing business models in transportation.

“We think there’s going to be more change in the world of mobility in the next five years than there has been in the last 50,” he said.

Ammann noted that the core profit from GM’s business comes from cars sold outside the urban environments where Lyft primarily operates, especially sales of sport utility vehicles in suburban areas.

“From a GM perspective, we view this as much more of an opportunity than a threat,” he said.


Also see:

GM gears up to take on Uber, Zipcar

Did you see who is driving?

"General Motors CEO Mary Barra adds chairman title" by Tom Krisher and Tom Murphy Associated Press  January 04, 2016

DETROIT — General Motors CEO Mary Barra is taking on the added role of chairman at the nation’s largest automaker.

On Monday, the company’s directors unanimously elected her to lead the board, effective immediately.

She replaces former Cummins Inc. chairman and CEO Theodore Solso as GM’s chairman. He will stay on as the lead independent director, the company said.

Barra, 54, took over as chief executive in January 2014, becoming the first woman to lead a global automaker. Her appointment came shortly before GM became embroiled in a scandal over faulty small-car ignition switches. But she led GM through the crisis and a related series of embarrassing safety recalls.

Barra replaced Dan Akerson, a former telecommunications and private equity executive, who also held the chairman and CEO roles before leaving GM.

GM’s leadership consolidation runs counter to the trend in corporate governance, according to the proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services. Corporate governance experts often recommend separating the chairman and CEO roles to keep the board more independent. But Solso said in a statement that the board determined it’s best to combine the chairman and CEO roles again ‘‘at a time of unprecedented industry change.’’

He said that under Barra’s leadership, the company consistently has delivered on its earnings targets and has led in breakthrough vehicles and technologies. Having Barra in the dual roles, he said, will ‘‘drive the most efficient execution of our plan and vision for the future.’’

However, Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, sees the consolidation as ‘‘a real step backward’’ for GM.

The director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware said boards have been separating the chairman and CEO roles because they are now viewed more as monitors of a company, not advisers.

‘‘The board is there to oversee the CEO, and the person who is chairing the board shouldn’t be the person overseen by the board,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a conflict.’’

Barra joined General Motors at age 18 as a co-op student, working for several months at a time at GM’s Pontiac division while studying for her engineering degree at General Motors Institute, a Flint, Mich., college that was at the time owned by the company.

She graduated from GMI, now Kettering University, in 1985, and GM eventually sent her to Stanford University to earn a master’s degree in business administration.

When she returned, she rotated through a number of jobs, including executive assistant to then-chief executive Jack Smith, a role that was often given to rising stars. She headed mid-size car engineering and managed GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

Just after GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, then-CEO Ed Whitacre put her in charge of human resources, a stop that isn’t normally along the CEO track.

In 2011, Akerson plucked Barra from HR to run GM’s worldwide product development, an operation he says was in chaos at the time.


Can't get it started:

"GM ignition defect case dismissed"  New York Times  January 23, 2016

The first federal civil trial that General Motors has faced over its defective ignition switch ended abruptly Friday after the plaintiff agreed to dismiss his claims.

The case became troubled after allegations from GM cast doubt on testimony given by the plaintiff, Robert Scheuer, an Oklahoman who was injured after his 2003 Saturn Ion crashed in 2014.

On Thursday, after evidence emerged showing that Scheuer might have provided misleading testimony about his finances after the accident, Judge Jesse Furman of US District Court in Manhattan, the judge in the case, suggested that the parties settle or otherwise resolve the matter.

The claims were dismissed with prejudice, meaning that Scheuer will not be able to refile his claims. Scheuer agreed not to take any money on his claim, according to documents filed in court.

The trial was the first of six so-called bellwether cases that the automotive company is facing. The allegations in this first case, one of three that were chosen by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, made this case an “outlier,” the judge said Thursday, implying that it would not be as useful as a model for other similar cases.


"General Motors cleared in latest ignition switch case" by Bill Vlasic New York Times  March 31, 2016

NEW YORK — General Motors not responsible after a two-week trial that is one of six so-called bellwether trials being conducted to resolve a variety of legal claims against GM.

All of the cases were consolidated in New York for the bellwether purposes, and the first was dismissed in January because of accusations that the plaintiff had given misleading testimony about his health and financial situation.

GM said the verdict Wednesday reflected evidence that the accident was not caused by ignition problems.

“The jurors studied the merits of the case and saw the truth,” the company said in a statement. “This was a very minor accident that had absolutely nothing to do with the car’s ignition switch.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Randall Jackson, objected to the outcome.

“We definitely disagree with the overall verdict,” he said in comments reported by the Associated Press. “But we’re pleased with the findings that the jury made with regard to the fact that our client’s car was unreasonably dangerous.”

After admitting in early 2014 that it had failed for a decade to fix millions of small cars with faulty ignition switches, the company fired 15 employees, overhauled its engineering operations, and ultimately recalled about 30 million vehicles for various defects.

GM has paid about $600 million in compensation to settle 399 ignition-switch claims, including 124 death cases.

That $ettles that.

It also announced a settlement of $275 million covering an additional 1,385 death and injury cases and a $300 million payment to settle a class-action suit by shareholders. Last year, the automaker agreed to pay $900 million to settle a criminal investigation conducted by the Justice Department.


Also see:

GM to recall 200,000 cars over faulty airbags

GM to recall more than 1 million pickups to fix seat belt problem

General Motors to recall police cars over steering

Now things are getting serious.

GM raising quarterly dividend 

General Motors says it will add $4 billion to its stock buyback program.

"If you’re an automaker, especially one from Detroit, conditions probably aren’t going to be better for you to make a lot of cash. For General Motors, that’s what happened last year as the company posted a record $9.7 billion net profit. Yes, a good chunk of that was a $3.9 billion one-time accounting gain due to better prospects in Europe, but the company still made billions on booming sales of its strong lineup of SUVs and trucks, mainly in North America. Earnings were so strong that most of GM’s 49,600 hourly workers will get $11,000 profit-sharing checks on Feb. 26. The checks were based on North American pretax earnings, which hit a record of just over $11 billion for the year."

General Motors to borrow to pay pensions


GM joins Toyota at top of J.D. Power dependability rankings 

Imagine how horrible are the rest then.

GM to invest $908m in Tennessee and Michigan plants

One wonders why they moved them away in the first place.


Volkswagen chief, speaking to US workers, vows turnaround
Volkswagen appeals ruling on union at Tennessee plant
Labor board rejects Volkswagen’s challenge of union vote
VW CEO ‘personally’ apologized to Obama in plea for mercy

He should be apologizing to customers and the people of Tennessee, not Der Obummer.

"VW refuses to provide e-mails" New York Times  January 09, 2016

Citing German privacy laws, Volkswagen has refused to provide e-mails or other communications among its executives to attorneys general in the United States, impeding US investigations into the company’s emissions-cheating scandal, according to officials in several states.

The revelation signals a turning point in the now openly fractious relations between Volkswagen and US investigators, after claims by the Justice Department, in its own inquiry this week, that the company had recently “impeded and obstructed” regulators and provided “misleading information.”

They lied?

Significantly, investigators say, Volkswagen’s actions limit their ability to identify which employees knew about or sanctioned the deceptions. Finding the people responsible for the cheating is important to the lawsuits: Penalties would be greater if the states and others pursuing Volkswagen in court could prove that top executives were aware of or directed the activity.

“Our patience with Volkswagen is wearing thin,” said New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. “Volkswagen’s cooperation with the states’ investigation has been spotty.”

They had a nice Super Bowl 50 commercial though.



Justice Department sues Volkswagen over emissions cheating

VW chief executive plans to submit emissions fixes to EPA

Volkswagen’s top US executive resigns

Volkswagen sued by big investors over handling of emissions scandal

Volkswagen sued over diesel ads

Volkswagen case gives Calif. judge role of a lifetime

Volkswagen, government reach deal to pay owners of cheating diesels, source says

Volkswagen owners will get a choice: a buyback or repairs

What if they want money?

Lab tests also hid pollution from Europe’s diesels

Germany’s Volkswagen inquiry grows to 17 suspects

Winterkorn missed VW scandal warning signs in 2014 memos

Wasn't just VW.

Mitsubishi admits cheating on fuel-economy tests

Mitsubishi mileage-doctoring scandal widens

Is there not one honest car-maker?

Mexico fines VW $8.9 million

"VW, setting aside $18b for diesel scandal costs, reports record loss" by JACK EWING New York Times  April 22, 2016

FRANKFURT — Volkswagen reported a record loss for 2015 on Friday as it set aside more than $18 billion to cover the cost of fines, legal claims, and recalls in the United States and other countries related to diesel emissions cheating.

The figures show that the scandal will cost the company more than it previously acknowledged. But the sum was also less than some estimates for the cost of the US settlement, which ranged as high as $30 billion.

Volkswagen said it lost $6.2 billion last year, compared with a profit of $2.8 billion in 2014.

The company increased the amount of money it was setting aside for the scandal, to $18.2 billion. That was up from $7.6 billion previously.

The crisis “is having a huge impact on Volkswagen’s financial position,” Matthias Mueller, the chief executive, said in a statement.

There were also indications Friday that controversy about diesel engines was spreading to other carmakers....


Also seeVolkswagen and Audi recall 850,000 vehicles over air bags

Car just stalled.


Honda issues recall for Civics

"The US government has closed an investigation into Honda’s failure to report deaths and injuries, saying that the company has met all of its obligations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in documents posted on its website Monday that Honda paid a $70 million fine and took steps needed to make sure similar failures don’t happen again. The government fined Honda in December of 2014 in what then was the largest civil penalty levied against an automaker. The company admitted in a consent order that it didn’t report 1,729 complaints that its vehicles caused deaths and injuries, and that it didn’t report warranty claims. A small number of the deaths and injuries were related to air bag inflators made by Takata Corp."


"Published reports say that Ford plans to build an auto plant in Mexico, with plans to rev up production there. According to The Wall Street Journal, Ford will build a new assembly complex in San Luis Potosi and expand an existing facility near Mexico City. The Journal said the carmaker will add 500,000 units of annual capacity there, beginning in 2018. That would be more than double last year’s production in Mexico. The newspaper cited unnamed people briefed on the plan. Reuters also reported earlier on the San Luis Potosi plant. It cited Mexican officials. Neither Ford nor Mexico’s government would comment on the reports."

"Ford Motor Co. plans to build a new $1.6 billion auto assembly plant in Mexico, creating about 2,800 jobs and shifting small-car production from the United States at a time when moving jobs south of the border has become a major issue in the US presidential campaign. The company announced the plant in the San Luis Potosi state Tuesday without saying specifically what cars it will build there. But the United Auto Workers union has said Ford plans to shift production of the Focus compact and C-Max small gas-electric hybrid from suburban Detroit to Mexico, where the cars can be made at lower cost and more profitably."


Ford plans long-range electric car to compete with Tesla, GM

Customers form lines to reserve cheaper Tesla model
Orders for new Tesla model exceed 325,000
Tesla shares soar as orders for new model rush in

"Tesla Motors’ shares have come under pressure after Consumer Reports questioned the quality of its new Model X SUV. Consumer Reports says owners have reported that the Model X’s gull-wing rear doors don’t work. Others have complained about paint quality, malfunctioning seats, and issues with climate controls. Last week, Tesla recalled 2,700 Model X SUVs because the rear seats can fall forward in a crash. Tesla’s shares fell 3 percent on Tuesday. The Model X went on sale last fall. Tesla says it had some issues with early Model Xs, but it is working to solve them quickly. Tesla’s quality has been improving. The company based in Palo Alto, Calif., recently reported that it spent less on repairs for Model S cars produced in 2015 than in prior years." 

Is there any car company out there that doesn't make a pos?

Ford to make police cars that can stop armor-piercing bullets

Police get the safest cars.

Ford to recall 202,000 pickups, SUVs, and cars

Ford recalls vans over air bags

Investigation opened into Ford F-150 after brake failure reports

Time to hit them.


With SUV style and tech touches, Chrysler aims to revive minivans

"Federal regulators have intensified an investigation into about 856,000 Fiat Chrysler models, citing a concern that the vehicles could roll away when drivers think the automatic transmission is set on “park.” According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 121 accidents have been tied to the problem, with 30 injuries. In August, after 14 complaints from owners of 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees, the agency began looking into the automatic transmission on models that use a 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Investigators said 306 of 314 rollaway complaints involved Jeep Grand Cherokees. The 2012-14 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger with the 3.6-liter V-6 are also part of the investigation; those models had eight complaints, with reports of four crashes and two injuries. The three models use an electronic gear selector with a paddle shifter on the center console. The driver moves that paddle forward or backward to select a gear. Investigators said the system “is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver.”

Now I've got a flat tire.

Time to shift gears.


"Low gas prices help US auto sales hit all-time high" by Dee-Ann Durbin Associated Press  January 06, 2016

DETROIT — Analysts expect sales could go even higher this year as unemployment continues to decline and more young buyers enter the market.

Low gas prices and historically low interest rates left more money in buyers’ pockets.

Employment numbers also improved last year, so more buyers — particularly the huge generation of under-34 millennials — found they could finally afford a new car.

Yeah, right.

People who held off purchases during the recession were also lured back into the market by enticing new vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee and the revamped Ford F-150 pickup.

Analysts say the growth should continue this year, but at a slower pace. One reason: Millions of cars will be coming off of two- and three-year leases and into the used car market, so some buyers who would have purchased new cars will go for used ones instead.

More details.

RelatedCar sales jump in February

"Automakers revert to tactics that hurt them before recession" by Neal E. Boudette New York Times  April 15, 2016

When the car industry collapsed in the recession, automakers pulled back sharply on aggressive leasing deals and other financial incentives that had artificially increased their sales for years.

But now, with carmakers under pressure to maintain last year’s record numbers, they are once again turning to the same tactics that got them into trouble a decade ago.

Automakers are offering increasing discounts on economy cars and luxury models alike, relying more on sales to fleets like rental-car companies and bloating dealers’ inventories. More and more auto loans are being stretched out over longer periods of time.

At the same time, automakers have cranked up leasing to record levels, but there could be a harsh payback in the future....

“I’ve seen this movie before.” 


RelatedBank of England worried about too many car loans

That means another bailout:

"Obama visits Detroit auto show, lauds industry’s rebound" by Angela Greiling Keane Bloomberg News  January 21, 2016

DETROIT — President Obama took a victory lap for righting the US auto industry Wednesday as he toured the North American International Auto Show and spoke to autoworkers in Detroit after the best year ever for car sales.

Despite record 2015 sales, the auto industry faces a challenge as fewer young people buy cars or get drivers’ licenses.

Hey, what's two weeks when it comes to the exact opposite of a message?

The trip is a touchstone as Obama establishes his legacy, including bailouts of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group in 2009 that were among the first actions of his presidency. Unemployment in Detroit is at its lowest since 2003, and domestic manufacturers produced 12 million vehicles in 2015, double the 6 million built at the industry’s ebb, according to the White House.

“Today, factories are humming, business is booming, the American automobile industry is all the way back,” Obama said. “Seven years ago sales hit a 27-year low. Last year they hit an all-time high.”

The Detroit auto show is the marquee car show in the United States. Obama arrived on the show’s “education day,” when schoolchildren learn about the importance of the industry to the region. It was the first visit to the car show by a president since 1999.

Obama’s visit to the Ford booth was closed to reporters, unlike his other stops. Ford opposes the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that is one of Obama’s priorities. Ford has complained the deal doesn’t include stronger curbs on currency manipulation by US trade partners.

Obama dug out a movie reference for reporters:

 According to a University of Michigan study, in 2014 just 77 percent of people ages 20 to 24 in the United States had drivers’ licenses, compared with 92 percent in 1983.


I'm glad his gig is almost over.


Better call for a ride home:

"Carmakers embrace a digital, disruptive future" by Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff  6 days ago

LAS VEGAS — The first major trade show of the year for the automotive industry used to happen in Detroit. But not lately.

These days, the world’s biggest carmakers spend the first week of January in the desert, at the giant consumer electronics trade show known as International CES. It makes sense, considering that today’s automobiles are the most sophisticated digital devices that most consumers will ever own.

And the same Internet-based technologies that have transformed computing and telecommunications are now disrupting the auto industry. The rise of ride-sharing, short-term rental services like Zipcar, cellular data links that connect vehicles to the Internet, and the impending introduction of self-driving cars have spawned a realization among automakers that people may soon no longer need to own cars at all.

So carmakers at CES are preparing for a future in which automotive mobility is a service rather than a product, and cars — or even taxis — drive themselves.

General Motors Corp. set the tone Monday, announcing a $500 million investment in the ride-hailing company Lyft. GM and Lyft say they’re going to build a new service that will use self-driving GM vehicles, rather than human drivers.

On Tuesday, Ford Motor Co. described its own pilot ride-sharing program, tested in London and several US cities last year, in which owners of Ford vehicles could rent them out for short periods to preapproved drivers.

Ford chief executive Mark Fields said his company was moving to become “an auto and mobility company.” Instead of just making cars, he said, Ford plans to offer transportation services for a generation of customers who may prefer to borrow vehicles rather than own them.

“Those two companies are signaling that they understand that it’s not about moving metal any more,” said Frank Gillett, an automotive technology analyst for Forrester Research in Cambridge. “It’s about having an ongoing relationship with the customer.”

In the future, Gillett said, people might become loyal Ford or GM customers simply by repeatedly renting one of their cars, without ever owning one.

Ford would not comment Tuesday on reports published in December that the two companies would team up on the manufacture of the self-driving vehicles Google has been developing.

But Ford did announce a partnership with, to include the company’s Alexa speech-control technology in its Sync vehicle voice control system. Amazon introduced Alexa last year in its Echo personal assistant device, which can play music or news broadcasts at users’ requests. Amazon plans to add Alexa to a host of household devices — appliances, televisions, home security, and heating and air conditioning systems.

Fields said when Alexa-enabled Ford cars become available later this year, drivers can use it to communicate with their homes, turning up the heat, for example, or opening the garage door.

No worry regarding hackers?

Meanwhile, Toyota of America described its new billion-dollar smart vehicle research initiative, headed by Gill Pratt, who previously headed robotics research at the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.


Toyota has recruited an exceptional array of talent, including two professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Leonard and Russ Tedrake.

Last year, Toyota announced a $50 million investment to set up research facilities at Stanford University and MIT. The Cambridge facility, in Kendall Square, is under construction.

Tedrake said his research would focus on efforts to make self-driving cars “fail-safe.” That means that if the car malfunctions, it does so in a way that doesn’t hurt people.

“I think it’s an incredibly hard problem,” said Tedrake, because it’s impossible to predict all the circumstances that could cause a self-driving car to make a mistake.

For example, he said the vehicle might normally “see” a pedestrian in the road and stop before hitting him. But if the same person is wearing a color that’s hard for the car to detect under certain lighting conditions, the vehicle might not stop.

Related(?): Pedestrians struck, killed by vehicles in Malden, South Hadley

Tedrake said he and his team will work to develop simulation software that can identify such problems in advance and come up with solutions before they arise in real life.

For virtually everyone at CES, talk of self-driving cars has lost its “gee-whiz” tone; they’re now regarded as inevitable.

J. Gary Smyth, GM’s executive director of global research and development, predicted self-driving cars will be immensely popular with millennials, many of whom, he said, regard driving as a distraction, and with elderly and disabled people who’ll get a new measure of mobility.

But what about those who cherish the experience of driving? Smyth said his company’s cars would still offer drivers the option to take the wheel.

“There will be times when you will want to drive your car, when you will love doing it,” said Smyth. “And you will always have that opportunity.”


RelatedGoogle self-driving car strikes bus in California

"Video shows Google self-driving car hit bus" by Justin Pritchard Associated Press  March 10, 2016

LOS ANGELES — Newly released video shows the moment a Google self-driving car learned the hard way not to tussle with a public bus.

The collision happened on Valentine’s Day, when a Google vehicle struck the side of a public bus in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View. Footage recorded by cameras on the bus shows a Lexus sport utility vehicle edging into the path of the bus that was rolling by at about 15 miles per hour.

It was the first time in several years of testing on public roads that a Google self-driving car prototype caused a crash. Google has blamed other drivers for past collisions during testing, but, in a first, accepted at least partial responsibility for this crash.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority released the video and post-crash photos this week under a public records request.

Though it was a low-speed collision, the impact crumpled the Lexus’ front left side, flattened the tire, and tore off the radar Google installed to help the SUV perceive its surroundings.

The Lexus had to be towed. Neither the Google employee in the driver’s seat nor the 16 people on the bus were injured.


Also see:

"Google is about to embark on an old-school search, swapping its Internet algorithm for a custom-built van that will cruise across the US to find out how people use its online services and react to new features."

How come the headlights don't work?

Cambridge-based startup to soon test its driverless car tech

Experts caution self-driving cars aren’t ready for roads

That won't stop the federal government from approving them:

"Computer as driver? ‘Yes’ from feds boosts self-driving cars" by Tom Krisher and Justin Pritchard Associated Press  February 11, 2016

DETROIT — Computers that control cars of the future can be considered drivers just like humans, the federal government’s highway safety agency has decided.

The redefinition of ‘‘driver’’ by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an important break for Google, which is developing self-driving cars that get around without steering wheels, pedals — or even the need for a person to be inside.

Though treating a computer like a driver for regulatory purposes helps Google, its cars have miles to go before they get on the road in great numbers. While the safety agency agreed with Google’s ‘‘driver’’ reinterpretation in a recent letter, it didn’t allow other concessions and said numerous federal rules would have to be changed to permit the cars.

Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is testing dozens of prototypes in California, Texas, and Washington. The company has suggested they could be ready for the public in a few years.

In written requests over the past three months, Google asked the safety agency to interpret federal code in ways that would ease the path to market for its cars.

The agency agreed that the car can be a driver but, in a Feb. 4 response posted on its website, rejected the company’s claim that the cars comply with many related regulations including requirements for foot or hand brakes. Google said the requirement wasn’t necessary because the electronic driver can stop the cars. The government said regulations are clear and would have to be changed to allow that....


Time to put my foot down.


Here they come now:

"NAACP, Uber chide fingerprint proposal" by Travis Andersen Globe Staff   January 08, 2016

Civil rights groups and the ride-hailing service Uber on Thursday pushed back against a proposal to require drivers for the company and its competitors to be fingerprinted, despite strong support for the measure from police officials.

The proposal is pending in the state Legislature and has the backing of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, which said in a recent letter to lawmakers the initiative would ensure that applicants with criminal records cannot hide them by providing fake identities.

RelatedMass. police chiefs urge fingerprinting for Uber drivers

The NAACP and ACLU of Massachusetts say the proposal could bar minorities who have arrest records but no convictions from getting jobs in the rapidly growing industry. A federal database containing fingerprints of arrested individuals does not always contain information on whether or not the person was convicted.

Michael Curry, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said communities of color are “more engaged by police officers,” which often leads to arrests that do not result in convictions. “We don’t want to create more barriers to jobs,” Curry said, adding that the unemployment rate has historically been higher in minority neighborhoods.

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, echoed those comments and stressed in a statement that arrests “are not convictions.”

She said the “database that municipalities across Massachusetts submit both civil and criminal fingerprints to is riddled with errors.’’

The police chiefs association could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but a spokesman for the Boston Police Department, which regulates taxi cabs and backs the fingerprinting measure, said an arrest record does not necessarily disqualify a driver.

“The purpose of fingerprinting is to make sure the person that’s applying for the job is in fact” whom they claim to be, said Lieutenant Michael McCarthy. “We have certain guidelines that are set up, [and] certain disqualifiers. ... an OUI conviction, habitual traffic offenders. We look at the sex offender registry, felony convictions. It’s a very thorough background check.”

He said “an arrest record is one thing we look at, but it’s not the only thing.’’

Boston police currently do not fingerprint cab drivers, but Commissioner William B. Evans told the Globe Wednesday that fingerprinting will begin in the city for current and prospective taxi drivers within a month.

However, Evans’s predecessor, Edward F. Davis, now a consultant for Uber, cautioned Thursday that “no database has perfect information in it.”

He said Uber is a boon for customers in minority neighborhoods, where cabs are not always available.

During his tenure as commissioner, Davis said, “a constant refrain from neighborhoods of color in Boston was that they couldn’t get cab service. ... Uber has solved that problem.”

He said current company protocols, which include background checks and constant customer feedback on drivers, already provide for a safe riding experience. Drivers who receive low ratings for safety and courtesy first receive intervention, then are terminated if poor evaluations continue.

“You’re going to find out if there’s a problem with someone, and action will be taken before there’s a major incident,” said Davis, who also provides security services for The Boston Globe.

McCarthy, the police spokesman, said that Uber’s practices may be effective for drivers who have been hired, but “it’s just as important to have a system to prevent criminals from getting on the job in the first place.”

This as the government is trying to reintegrate prisoners into the population!



What’s gained by fingerprinting Uber and Lyft?

Arianna Huffington first woman on Uber board

A new GM for Uber’s Boston office

"Amazon and Uber need to grow up" by Dante Ramos Globe Columnist  April 26, 2016

One common thread is that both Amazon and Uber have become deeply enmeshed in the way people and goods move around today, at least in dense metro areas. Even so, older firms with a distinct physical presence make far more conspicuous targets for public officials and activist groups alarmed by yawning inequality. Walmart, the world’s largest retail chain, is a perennial target because of its labor practices; Verizon has been the subject of a major strike. Internet firms attract fewer protest signs, not least because their headquarters are so far away.

See: Boston's Verizon

In an alternate world, tech firms could be a more egalitarian force. Amazon’s expertise in selling a mind-boggling variety of products might be especially helpful to residents of Roxbury. An Internet retailer with a vast store of data should have no trouble identifiying underserved areas with unmet needs.

SeeDelayed Delivery

As for Uber, it’s already created a way for people to earn money without having to be formally hired by someone first. Maybe the company’s crack lobbying team can also help propose a fair legal and social insurance structure for workers who aren’t full-fledged employees but aren’t mere freelancers either.

These companies are in a position to soothe the problems that fray at our social fabric — or, if they’re not careful, to aggravate them....


Uber Boston announces partnership with disability advocates

Convention Center please:

"Proposed ban on Uber, Lyft at Convention Center raises worries" by Nicole Dungca Globe Staff  April 19, 2016

Thousands of out-of-town conventiongoers have gotten used to calling an Uber car from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to take them to a hotel or restaurant or back to the airport.

But new legislation could soon ban ride-hailing vehicles from picking up passengers there, a move that officials say could make it one of just a few major convention centers across the country with such restrictions.

As the Legislature seeks to regulate the companies, the House has approved a bill that introduces a five-year ban on Uber and Lyft picking up customers at convention center properties — and extending the current ban on many types of pickups at Logan International Airport. Convention center officials say they were blindsided by the proposal and are now pushing for the proposed ban to be eliminated in a future version of the bill when it is considered by the Senate.

“[Our customers] are taking the ride-sharing companies, and if you take that away, then our business will suffer,” said James Folk, director of transportation at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. “We’re trying to get as many people here for economic stimulus and everything else, and if we lose that, we’re going to lose customers.”

The pushback from the convention center authority underscores the political tensions that local officials must navigate as they seek to create rules for a now ubiquitous but still unregulated industry.

Convention center authorities said they want to continue their existing relationship with the traditional taxi industry, whose business still dwarfs companies such as Uber and Lyft on its properties.

But Folk said passing a ban on Uber and Lyft would make the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and Hynes Convention Center less appealing for big industry groups shopping for conference locations and hurt local residents who flock to the convention center in South Boston for crowded events, including those on the Lawn on D.

Uber and Lyft vehicles currently are able to pick up customers from the convention center properties, but patrons still wait in lengthy lines for taxis during busy conferences, according to officials. One ride-hailing firm, which Folk declined to name, estimated that its drivers provided about 15,000 trips from the convention center properties during 2015.

“There’s more than enough business to go around,” he said.

But taxi industry supporters say that restrictions on ride-hailing companies are the only way to keep some of its drivers in business. Since the arrival of companies such as Uber and Lyft, taxi drivers have seen a big drop in revenue: From January to June of 2015, for example, taxi ridership in Boston dropped 22 percent compared with the year before.

Donna Blythe-Shaw, who represents a union of taxi workers, said that her industry doesn’t believe that Uber and Lyft have a right to the fares or passengers they can currently pick up at the convention center. The taxi industry, which helped finance the convention center when it was built, needs more protection, she said.

“We’ve already lost our hailing business, and the regular business that we’ve been depending on” from regular contracts with private businesses, she said. “They need that exclusivity at the convention center and the airport.”

Representative Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat who supports the proposed bans and voted in favor of the bill, said the restrictions are necessary to temporarily help protect the small banks that helped finance taxi medallions that are now declining in value.

“We owe the medallion industry a little better effort than just saying, ‘Sorry, there’s new technology, and you’re out of luck,’ ” said Moran.

Like Blythe-Shaw, Moran pointed out that the sale of taxi medallions raised money that helped finance the convention center. “I love the convention center, but they wouldn’t be in that building if the taxi financing didn’t help put it together,” he said.

The bill passed by the House built off of a version that Governor Charlie Baker had filed. Baker’s version did not include restrictions for convention center properties or Logan.

Representatives from both Uber and Lyft protested the House’s version of the bill last month, criticizing the proposed restrictions. Chelsea Wilson, a spokeswoman for Lyft, said that the bill “limits consumer choice, restricts competition, and doesn’t serve the best interests of the state.”

If the Legislature approves the five-year bans for the airport and convention center, Massachusetts would be bucking a trend across the country — and in a way that convention center officials worry would make the city look unattractive to visitors.

To protect a failing industry.

Most airports have long had strict regulations about what kind of vehicles can solicit rides from people leaving the airport, which meant Uber and Lyft were often banned from airports from the start. But in recent years, major airports have turned a corner as the services have become more popular: Now, Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and O’Hare Airport in Chicago are among the major hubs that allow Uber and Lyft to pick up from their properties, and Logan is one of the few major airports that still ban ride-for-hire firms.

The proposed five-year ban from Logan wouldn’t necessarily change Massport’s current practices.

Right now, Uber is able to dispatch some of its cars to the airport through its UberBlack and UberSUV services, which include livery cars that are registered with the Boston Police Department’s Hackney Carriage unit and pay for commercial insurance.

That still excludes the vast majority of Uber vehicles that most customers take: The service that most are familiar with is UberX, the lowest-cost version that is largely made up of drivers who use their personal vehicles and have not purchased commercial insurance or registered with the police department. (Some livery drivers, however, have chosen to charge UberX prices, which are significantly less expensive than UberBlack and UberSUV prices.)

Jennifer Mehigan, a spokeswoman for Massport, said the agency is not opposed to companies such as Uber and Lyft. “We are waiting to see what is finalized on Beacon Hill and are hopeful there will be a resolution soon,” she wrote in an e-mail.

On the convention center side, Folk said several agencies in other states are working with Uber and Lyft to accommodate ride-for-hire firms in some way, rather than banning the vehicles altogether. Officials said they have also heard concerns that nearby properties, such as the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel that sits adjacent to the center, could be affected by the ban.


Maybe they can fly you in by copter instead.

CarMax expanding into Greater Boston market

CarMax criticized for selling used cars with recalls pending

They used to call those lemons.

Maybe you can rent a car for the day.


Race ya!

IndyCar street races draw fans, but pose challenges for cities
Grand Prix race draws ire of South Boston condo owners
Designer says it was challenge to create Boston Grand Prix course
Top IndyCar driver likes what he sees on Boston course
Massport won’t help pay for IndyCar race
Sale of tickets for IndyCar race put on hold
Defending IndyCar race, Walsh bemoans Boston’s culture of ‘no’
Indycar reaches agreement with Seaport condo residents
Rally in Boston remembers victims of road crashes
Man convicted in Arborway crash that paralyzed 2
Accord imminent on IndyCar race
IndyCar race on track for Labor Day run
IndyCar opponents ask for environmental review
Grand Prix of Boston scoops up anti-IndyCar website name
Letter calls for cancellation of Boston IndyCar race
Petition in favor of Boston IndyCar race revs up
Boston IndyCar race executive has long history of tax, foreclosure woes
Grand Prix organizers face questions on noise, pollution, crowds
City employee follows suspect after alleged hit and run
Trooper helps arrest alleged wrong-way driver in Bourne
IndyCar race months away, but infrastructure is arriving
IndyCar promoters complete negotiations with officials
Ready, set, go: IndyCar tickets go on sale
Give Boston’s IndyCar race a green flag
Boston IndyCar race clears first regulatory hurdle
IndyCar, HubSpot might be on a Labor Day collision course 

Look out!

"IndyCar must now deal with city’s Conservation Commission" by Evan Allen and Jon Chesto Globe Staff  April 22, 2016

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Friday that he is optimistic IndyCar race organizers would be able to hold their event in South Boston in September, despite new environmental concerns raised by the Boston Conservation Commission. 

I was wondering about those. You know, the greenhouse gases and all.

“I’m hoping to see it here Labor Day weekend,” Walsh told reporters at a morning event. “I think there’s a process now they can follow, and I think they have to follow that process and make their case.”

In a 4-to-1 vote this week, the commission, which has responsibility for protecting wetlands in the city, concluded that the route planned for the race travels through a 100-year flood zone, and that organizers had to apply for permits that consider the potential environmental impact of any construction.

Opponents of the race hailed the commission’s decision as a roadblock for a race they say will disrupt their neighborhood and damage the environment.

Race organizers said the ruling is likely to have minimal impact on their plans, but Larry Bishoff, cochairman of the Coalition Against IndyCar Boston, applauded the decision.

The Grand Prix of Boston is slated to take place Sept. 2-4 on a 2.2-mile course around the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.

The commission’s vote comes shortly after organizers and city and state officials reported they had resolved all outstanding issues, and that organizers could proceed with construction.

Walsh said the commission was simply following environmental regulations, and race organizers would have to follow the process, no matter how inconvenient. “The rules are there for a reason,” he said. “You have to live by the rules and work by the rules.”


They did a quick U-turn!

"Indycar race scratched for Seaport" by Mark Arsenault Globe Staff  April 29, 2016

Promoters of an IndyCar race in the Seaport this September are peeling out of Boston and will not race in the city.

“The relationship between us and the city is not working,” said John Casey, president of what had been called the Grand Prix of Boston, in a Globe interview Friday. “The relationship is untenable.”

The city’s inaugural IndyCar race had been scheduled for Labor Day weekend, on a 2.2-mile temporary street course around the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Promoters last May signed an agreement with Mayor Martin J. Walsh to hold the race in 2016, then annually for up to four more years.

Instead, the promoters will turn to Plan B and try to hold a Labor Day race in a backup city in the Northeast, Casey said. The promoters have had contact with two other cities, he said, one of which is in New England.

“They are both willing to do it without the headaches of Boston,” he said, declining to name the cities.

Boston is 0-2 recently on new, attention-grabbing sporting events, with the demise of the race coming less than a year after Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics collapsed.

Opponents on Friday cheered the end of the Grand Prix.

Casey said city officials made relentless and unrealistic demands on the promoters that eventually just became too much to bear.

“I’m writing a book about this whole process,” he said. “It’s so ridiculous, it’s hysterical.”

Casey’s announcement comes after months of negotiations with city and state officials on agreements governing the conduct of the race.

Patrick Brophy, chief of operations for Boston, said in a statement that race organizers “were unwilling or unable to meet the necessary requirements to hold an event of this size.”

In a Globe interview, Brophy said the city insisted on protections for the taxpayers and the neighborhood.

“They didn’t want to do it, and we’re OK with it,” he said.

“I’m sure there will be plenty of good things to do in Boston over Labor Day weekend.”

The race promoters, he added, were highly disorganized.

Governor Charlie Baker’s office said that “planning this race was complex from the beginning, and the administration was pleased to work closely with race promoters and our city partners on mutually agreed upon protections for public safety and taxpayers while even extending key deadlines at the promoters’ request. The Baker administration looks forward to continuing the productive relationship with the City of Boston to promote the Commonwealth on the world’s stage.”

LogMeIn CEO Bill Wagner signed on early as a major sponsor for the event, in part because of the positive attention he said the race would bring to the city and to the neighborhood. “We’re really disappointed.”

Wagner noted that ticket sales were off to a stronger-than-expected start, and employees at his high-tech company were enthusiastic.

“The level of excitement among our employees [about the race] had exceeded my expectations,” Wagner said. “It had a much broader appeal than a lot of people expected.”

The long-term impact to the city, Wagner said, could involve ripple effects that go well beyond the loss of the Labor Day weekend race.

“It’s going to send a signal to other people trying to bring events to Boston,” Wagner said. “If anyone else brings an event to Boston, I’m sure they’re going to call IndyCar and ask what their experience was. I would hate to hear what that call was [like].”


They will be refunding you the price of the ticket.


Time to get back to work:

"The workforce of tomorrow will be fine without a dedicated desk or cubicle, by the way, Pandya said, because they’re comfortable plugging in their laptops anywhere. As for photos and other mementos that workers put up to personalize their workspace, Gen Z has no need for those either. All that stuff is in their phones. As work and leisure continue to blend, young workers expect even more from their offices, Pandya said. In between e-mails and conference calls, they want places to interact with coworkers, eat, exercise, play games, and take walks. The new motto, as Pandya sees it: “There’s no place like work.”

"The gig economy is coming. You probably won’t like it. Say goodbye to salaries, health insurance, and vacation days. Forty percent of America’s workforce could be freelance by 2020" by Brandon Ambrosino   April 20, 2016

The “gig economy,” the hip-sounding term used to describe those Americans who make their livings in nontraditional ways.

While there is considerable disagreement over this projection, what is clear is that “more and more jobs are being moved to independent contractor status,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University.

To be clear, employers are driving the change, but that’s not to say most independent workers aren’t happy with their job situations.  Even when freelancers do lock in a gig, the money doesn’t always pan out.

“Seven out of ten freelancers experience trouble getting paid by clients, often waiting months for a check — and sometimes getting outright stiffed,” explains Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union.

Not to mention, says Pfeffer, that “in the US, every benefit comes through your employer — your 401k, health insurance, unemployment insurance. To the extent that you don’t have an employer, you have no access to any of these things.”

To remedy this, Steven Hill, author of Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, has proposed an Individual Security Account, which would stay with gig workers wherever their careers took them.

The gig economy doesn’t treat everyone fairly, says Hill. “This economy leans to certain personalities,” he says, noting that making it largely depends on being able to hustle and market yourself 24/7.

No wonder I'm stuck doing this gig.

THOUGH RESEARCHERS HAVE LONG STUDIED workplace psychology — the field even has its own name, industrial and organizational behavior — the growing gig economy hasn’t received the same attention. That’s a shame: According to a recent paper from Roosevelt University, many freelancers regularly experience anxiety, frustration, anger, and depression, which is not surprising given the demonstrated benefits of regular employment on mental health.

Spencer Harrison, associate professor in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, says that although gig workers face financial anxieties, the bigger issue can be an existential one. “Because we spend so much of our lives at work, work is a place where we find out who we are and craft our identities,” he says. “When we’re moving from one thing to the next, some people might sense a difficulty cobbling together ‘Who am I?’ ”

Gianpiero Petriglieri, a psychiatrist and associate professor at INSEAD, an international graduate business school, studies independent workers with colleagues Sue Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski. They’ve noticed a unique double bind adding to the anxiety of freelancers. “On one hand, the work is precarious, but at the same time, it’s very self-defining,” says Petriglieri. “So work is becoming more and more important to who you are, and at the same time it’s becoming less secure.”

But there’s a hidden cost to this kind of flexibility. Because gig workers are never “on the clock,” they’re never really off it. A 2004 study concluded that because of the cyclical nature of independent work and the 24/7 brand management it requires, gig markets actually “place more rather than fewer constraints on workers’ time.”

So why, in light of all these anxieties, do most freelancers seem to prefer gig work? “That’s the million-dollar question,” says Wilma B. Liebman, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board. But one thing’s for sure, she says: “There is deep discontentment among working people — what do you think is fueling [Bernie] Sanders’s and [Donald] Trump’s campaigns?”

The hard part for researchers who study gig work is knowing whether someone is pursuing a genuine narrative of passion — “I’m doing this job because it gives me purpose” — or as more of a temporary Band-Aid, says Harrison. In either case, workers may speak positively about their jobs. And that makes sense, says Jeffrey Pfeffer. “There’s a process called cognitive dissonance, so you come to terms with where you are,” he says. “Humans have a way of not being chronically unhappy.”

Yes, we will put up with a lot of misery before acting to change things.

But perhaps, says Petriglieri, some academics who spend their lives in established institutions might find it hard to look at freelance work as anything other than a bump in the road on the way to traditional employment. “It’s as if we can’t imagine people might actually choose to have a working life outside of an organization — and thrive.”

Whether they see the workplace changes as fundamentally positive or negative, experts agree that they need more research, because the gig economy isn’t going away. In any economy, the name of the game is getting work done efficiently at the lowest cost.

That just about says it all.

Sure, you’re great at your job — but an independent worker could do just as well, and your boss wouldn’t have to give her benefits. Or pay for her water-cooler time....


It's all part of the Good Life, and you will get nothing more from me.